People nowadays tend to call the world modern because of the great technological changes and widespread usage of devices. To them, events which occurred one hundred years ago seem like an ancient history which has no connection to the future. On the other hand, it was then when the modernist movement began. T. S. Eliot’s poem “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is one of the pioneering works which created a new era in the world of literature and art.
Eliot’s poem has many modernist features. Modernist, as a style of literature, questioned the changes of the time writers lived in. It was a style where people could express their frustration and lack of understanding of the world around them. They used it to show their inner emotions and stream of consciousness. All of these things are presented in the poem which shows its direct connection to modernist movement.
First, the poem “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a monologue of a lonely man disappointed with his life who faces many challenges which make his hardships even more difficult. The man speaks about his isolation, his inability to adapt to changes and lack of opportunities. The main character lives in the city surrounded by many people; yet he feels lonely and misunderstood. He is always reminded by the love not-meant-to-be, and it makes him even more miserable. The poem is filled with frustration, despair and loneliness of a man who is unable to fit in and sees no sense in this existence. This way, the author painted the character’s inner world and showed the tiniest details of his soul. This is a feature of modernism when an author shows subjective consciousness. The stream of consciousness technique is widely used in this poem. It creates a very intimate relationship with the readers because they are able to see the deep emotions which identify the character’s personality.
Another feature of modernism is the usage of many different sources to create various feelings. Eliot used many quotations from sources such as Dante’s works and Bible. This way his poem becomes mosaic or a collage which unites many different works and ideas.
Another modernism feature is creating a character who is both a speaker and a listener. Prufrock wants to speak about his misery, but something stops him; this why he often deliberates and feels insecure. This is a common feature of modernism literature which uses psychoanalytical method and often portrays characters with multiple personalities. In Eliot’s case, he created a hero who was both the main character, but also a spectator who passively watched his life went by.
Another important feature of modernism which makes readers feel unusual after reading the poem is the usage of subjective time. It is hard to determine whether Prufrock is actually moving, or whether the actions and things he describes are simply happening in his head. It may be the result of his imagination, or the mix of reality with his thoughts. It creates a startling new form of poetic expression because it transfers the readers into the new worlds. The readers were used to books were the place and time were directly stated; it was realistic literature which explained things the way they were. This poem similarly to other modernist works presents the readers with uncertainty; there is no exact time, no exact place, and no decisions made. It is even hard to determine to whom the author was speaking to. The main question of the poem is also uncertain. Readers may have different ideas about it; they may think that the author wanted to show love to a woman, or to wimple his emotions this way. It is difficult to see what the author actually meant; this is why it is very important for the readers to interpret the poem in their personal ways.
These features make the poem modernist, and they also present the readers with the new kind of poetry. Readers see a lonely and pessimistic man who does not know what to do and what steps to take in his life, and surprisingly, they can relate to him. They see his pain and his misery, and they find many similarities in their own lives. At the same time, Profrock’s figure remains distance because despite readers relate to him, they can never fully understand the hero.
Eliot’s poem is a great example of modernist literature which showed the complications of the time. Despite facing a lot of criticism after its publishing, it remains one of the greatest modernist poems and is very popular with the readers.